Assisting Student Writers to Make Best Use of Their Notebooks

Students frequently need extra guidance and support in those early stages of the year to develop that essential momentum and confidence necessary for successful writing. They are learning to trust a new teacher, new surroundings, and maybe new classmates. There is a lot to consider. It takes a little time to adapt to new routines and expectations when the new school is beginning. What does this teacher expect of me as a reader and writer?

How do we as teachers assist students to gain trust and momentum as writers?

Well, if it is your intention that students use a writer’s notebook, then you will have to gently lead them forward by revealing the hidden potential of this writer’s resource, showing them how it can play a vital role in their daily lives as writers.

Used appropriately, Writer’s notebooks allow developing writers to make stronger connections to the world surrounding them. The harvesting and documenting of their daily lives provides an easy, informal way to start thinking about new topics and ideas. They become increasingly more observant and this leads to increased engagement.  With time and practice, the notebook becomes a purposeful collection zone for a myriad of ‘stuff’ to stimulate their writing lives. Embryonic writing ideas, experiments with words, favourite quotes, amazing facts and trivia, lists, dreams, wonderings and ideas for the future begin to spread across the notebook pages. The statement, ‘I don’t know what to write about,’ fades into history, buried under an avalanche of potential ideas.

 The Launching Pad for Writing Ideas:
Share your own writer’s notebook. Your students then have an example to follow.  They may even use some of the ideas sighted in your notebook(s) to spark writing ideas of their own. ‘What did you notice when you were looking at my notebooks?

With your students create a chart/list of possible notebook inclusions such as:
Lingering questions and wonderings
Memoir pieces
Opinion pieces
Descriptions of place, people, events
Fiction/Fact/ Faction (a blend of fact & fiction) stories
Rants and raves
Lists ( It’s a good idea to show them how it’s done first and how it differs from a mundane shopping list) then compile a list of possible lists such –things that are slow, fast, scary, exciting, boring …
Cut out pictures, headlines, banners, and articles from newspapers and magazines and use them to generate some writing ideas
Collect ephemera such as tickets, photographs, brochures, stickers from places that you visit and things that you do.
Draw maps of favourite places, your route to school, your house, an imaginary land
Collect memorable quotes that spark your thinking and launch writing ideas
Include sketches, illustrations and doodles from which you ‘draw’ inspiration
Write about your family; its traditions, stories and history.  
Include references to favourite places, objects, recipes
Tell stories form an earlier time in your life.
Retell stories your family have told you

Encourage your students to maintain a close connection to their writer’s notebook. Make it a travelling companion. Keep it handy and write, draw, paste anything that presents as a possible writing inspiration.

 Encourage students to regularly reread their blossoming notebook entries. Have them excavate those hidden gems, to see if there are any entries that spark ideas for further writing.  Frequently, new ideas for writing emerges from older ones.

 After a few weeks of notebook entries have been completed conduct a silent share session (walk around the room silently observing and making notes about the great things they are witnessing in notebooks) where students select a page they believe best demonstrates their thinking and documenting as a writer. Leave that page open on a table/desktop and allow others to read, observe and note ideas they believe might assist them as fellow writers. Following the silent share, allow time to discuss some of the great ideas seen as did their gallery walk of the classroom.

Hopefully, these ideas will build content and confidence within your burgeoning community of writers. Remember though, those notebooks need regular feeding to stay healthy.


  1. Thank you for engaging in this topic. It's one I struggle with as a writer and a writing teacher.

    Because I'm the first teacher to get them going with a WN, I often wish to loop up a year to 4th grade with my class, to see if it would happen more organically after having already had a year with their notebook under their belt.

    I like the idea of a silent share session.


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